Column: Favre captures young fans' hearts

On Friday, 33-year-old Jim Kleinsasser was on TV crossing his fingers that Brett Favre would come back, but it was a classroom of second-graders that brought home the importance of Favre and the Vikings with their innocent hopes.

A funny thing happened Friday. My 8-year-old daughter pulled me into her classroom when I went to pick her up from school. A topic came up that I was neither prepared for nor able to give the answer being sought. At some point during the school day, the question of whether Brett Favre would return for another season came up in discussion among second-graders – presumably somewhere between science and recess. My daughter got involved in the conversation and chimed in with the worst possible answer, "My Daddy knows."

What was expected to be a head nod to her teacher that I was ready to get my little monkey and leave turned into something else – a half-moon circle of angelic faces looking to me for an answer to a question. I didn't know the answer. I was pulled into the classroom like a substitute teacher and asked, "Is Brett going to keep playing?"

I have pondered the question myself and have been able to make viable, justifiable arguments for both sides, but seeing 20 sets of bright eyes on me – a quiet rarity for her class – was something I wasn't expecting. Unlike the other dads in the class, I could bear witness to the fun Favre had with his new teammates and why the pull to come back for another season made sense. If anything could convince him to come back for a 20th season, the love he received from his fellow Vikings rekindled the fire that has always burned in Favre's competitive spirit. Unfortunately, I was also in the bowels of the Superdome as his tearful wife was waiting for the chance to see her battered, injured husband, who had arguably taken one of the worst beatings of his career against a Saints defense that, we learned in hindsight, was hell-bent on taking him out.

The raw emotion outside and inside the locker room following that game spoke volumes. If it was to be Favre's last moment with his Vikings teammates, he had a memory to be savored. Two of the last three NFL Offensive Rookies of the Year – Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin – both came up to Favre's cubicle to speak to him. He put an arm around each of them and they shared a tear-filled hug. The tough-guy NFL image was stripped away and it was three guys from two different generations sharing a moment that they will all cherish – even if for different reasons.

I didn't know how to answer the question posed by my daughter's classmates. I could have lied and simply said, "Yeah, he's coming back." It would have been easy. School ends in three weeks and, by the time third grade starts in September, we'll know definitively what the answer is. But, being an idiot, I asked why they wanted to know.

"I love Brett," one boy said. "He's the best."

"The Vikings almost went to the Super Bowl," another girl chimed in.

Cathartic moments become markedly rarer the older you get and the more things you have experienced in your life. I am long since removed from being wide-eyed about too many things, but the comments from my little one's friends hit me like a lightning bolt. These were kids that don't know the difference between a Democrat or a Republican or that Favre was an MVP years before they were a glimmer in their dad's eye or a glow in their mom's cheeks. They were Vikings fans and clearly Favre was one of the reasons.

Over the course of the next couple of minutes, I tried to explain to them that Favre has played football for a long time and it hurts when people tackle you. After a while, the hurt gets to be too much and football players retire. If he feels good this summer, he'll come back and play again. But, he has a family of his own and might want to spend more time with them.

The looks on some of the faces were almost that of betrayal. It's hard to put into words the reactions from these kids that don't know who Randy Moss or Daunte Culpepper are, much less John Randle, Cris Carter, Randall McDaniel, Carl Eller, Alan Page, Bud Grant or Fran Tarkenton. They are fan tadpoles. They love the Vikings because someone in their family does.

The Favre "will he-or-won't he" debate has been a hot topic among the parents of these kids, but I guess I had never looked at it from their perspective. To look in their eyes and see the innocence of youth that hasn't been tainted yet by the world as we know it was powerful. They spoke about Favre like he was a member of the family. Actually, the name "Favre" was never mentioned. It was always "Brett" – as if he was a relative of some kind.

It was in this moment that my belief that Minnesota needs to build a stadium to keep the Vikings here was not only reaffirmed, but set in stone. These kids don't know about unallotments and budget cuts and billion-dollar deficits. Like I did decades earlier, they're growing up with the Vikings as part of their lives – the fabric in which their family history is woven. None of them could tell me that Joe Biden is the vice president, but all of them could tell me two things – they know who lives in a pineapple under the sea and that Brett Favre is the quarterback of the Vikings.

As other parents arrived to pick up their children, it was clear that this Algonquin kids table was about to break up. Among these kids, I wasn't Mr. Holler. I wasn't John. I was Maryn's dad. And one little boy wearing a Vikings T-shirt raised his hand, as if I was a teacher and he needed permission to speak.

"Maryn's Dad, do you think Brett will come back to play for the Vikings?"

"I hope so."

"If you talk to him, tell him Derek thinks he's awesome."

"I will."

If Favre comes back, that's a promise I'm going to keep. Whether he does or he doesn't, it's also something I plan to relate to those that represent me, my daughter and her classmates at Madison Elementary School in the Minnesota Legislature.

At my age, cathartic moments are rare. I had one Friday … and it was both eye-opening and very cool.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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